“Giving and Receiving”

Worship Script 5


Asking is Giving

Worship Script (5 of 5)

 

OPENING WORDS

By Alice Walker from the Color Purple. Last sentence by Emily DeTar Birt

“I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ask. And that in wondering bout the big things and asking bout the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, the more I love.”

Let us gather together, to ask about the big things, and to love even more than we can imagine.

 

HYMN #389 Gathered Here

 

FIRST READING 

Excerpt from The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer


When we ask for anything, we’re almost always asking for help in some form: help with money, permission, acceptance, advancement, help with our hearts.
Brene Brown has found through her research that women tend to feel shame around the idea of being “never enough”: at home, at work. Never pretty enough, never smart enough, never thin enough, never good enough. Men tend to feel share around the fear of being “perceived as weak.”.
Both sexes get trapped in the same box, for different reasons..
If I ask for help, I am not enough.
If I ask for help, I am weak.
It’s no wonder so many of us just don’t bother to ask. It’s too painful.

 

SECOND READING

To Ask is to Give Reflection By Jeffrey A. Lockwood


A voice screeched gate assignments through a nerve-jangling public address system. Even if the announcements had been in English, I doubt that I’d have been able to make sense of them. But whatever was being broadcast to the cavernous waiting area of the Moscow airport prompted mobs of people to head toward the buses that shuttled passengers to the planes. I grew panicky as I realized that there was no chance of figuring out which announcement concerned my flight. Staring desperately at my boarding pass, I realized that all I had to do was find a Russian with a matching flight number and follow him. To my right was a morose old fellow whose pass was tucked into the pocket of his threadbare suit coat. To my left was salvation.

A pretty teenager had her boarding pass stuck in the book she was reading, and the first two digits of her flight number were the same as mine. Hoping to see the numbers hidden by the edge of the page, I carefully leaned over. Sensing my movement, she turned to look at me. I pointed hopefully at my boarding pass and then at hers. To my relief, she immediately understood. But we’d attracted the attention of her parents and younger brother. When she explained my situation, her mother smiled warmly and launched into what I took to be an offer to help. I nodded, correctly guessing that I’d been temporarily adopted.

When our flight was announced, the mother leapt to her feet and grasped me by the elbow. She ushered me toward the gate, shouting directions to the others, as the boy grabbed my backpack and the girl and her father hauled the rest of the luggage. The mother pushed through the crowd, returning scowls with her own glare and dragging me along until we’d boarded the bus. Once at the plane, I thanked her profusely, using one of the few Russian words I knew. She seemed to thank me in return. But why would she be grateful?

One of the great blessings of travel is to be put in a position of asking help from others, to be genuinely needful of strangers. Our illusion of self-reliance evaporates as the unexpected and the unfamiliar merge into vulnerability. We offer the gift of authentic need, the opportunity for deep trust. We express to another person the most humanizing cross-cultural phrase: “Please, help me.”


HYMN #1021 Lean on Me

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES
Super Tiny Story By Sunshine Jeremiah Wolfe


Once, there was a little girl named Amanda who loved to help other people. She helped her Papa David and Papi Caesar to clean the house, she raked up the leaves in her neighbor Jim’s yard when he was in pain and couldn’t do it himself, and she tutored her friend Sara in Math. So, when it came time for her class to do a project to help people in her hometown, she was excited. Teacher Mike assigned each student a community of people that they should help. Some would help people living with illness, some would clean yards for those who could not clean their own—each project was a little bit different.

Teacher Mike told Amanda that he would like her to help people in Walden—the poor part of town- who are hungry. He said, “you can do any type of service project you like, but I want you to help those who are hungry.”

Amanda couldn’t wait! She thought all day about what she could do. When she got home she told Papa David and Papi Caesar about the project. “I want to make sandwiches and take them to the people are hungry!” Papa David and Papi Caesar and their neighbor Jim and her friend Sara made 100 sandwiches for the poor people in Walden.

The next day, Papi Caesar drove with Amanda to Walden. She had placed each sandwich in a bag with a piece of fruit. She tried handing out the sandwiches, but no one really seemed interested in them. Papi Caesar couldn’t explain to her why no one wanted the sandwiches. She offered them to people who were young and old, brown and white, friendly and rude- but the answer was always the same—“oh, I ate earlier, but thank you.”

Then she saw another little girl about her age. The little girl seemed to be watching Amanda—observing her with a look of laughter and curiosity.

Amanda approached the little girl, “would you like a sandwich?”

The little girl looked at her for a moment and then said, “aren’t you going to ask me my name?”

Amanda was a little embarrassed, “Oh, I am sorry. My name is Amanda. What is your name?”

“My name is Tiny.” This name was clearly appropriate- the little girl was tiny. “Why are you handing out sandwiches?”

“Well, it is a class project. I was asked to help those who are hungry here in Walden. So, my Papa David and Papi Cesar and Jim and Sara and I made sandwiches to give everyone.”

Tiny laughed, “Well, we do get hungry here some times, but we never take food from strangers. Some of my neighbors go to the soup kitchen each evening.” She paused to laugh some more, then, “Your teacher really asked you to help the hungry?”

Amanda was a little upset that Tiny thought this was so funny. Without really thinking she blurted out angrily, “Well, what would you do, then!?!” She didn’t mean to get so mad, but she did not like that someone thought her being helpful was funny?

Tiny stopped laughing and looked seriously at Amanda. “You really want to help us?”

Amanda nodded, but didn’t speak because she was too mad.

“Well, we have a garden that the city gave us. They gave us seeds, but most of the seeds were bad or not food that any of us will be able to eat much of- like turnips.” Tiny made a grimace, “Yuck! Who needs one thousand turnip seeds? Amanda laughed.

Tiny explained that what they really needed were healthy seeds for foods her community would eat and tools to help dig up the land and water the garden. Tiny said that if Amanda really wanted to help, she could get her class and her Dads and her friends to write letters to the City Council asking that a grocery store be put in the neighborhood because the closest one was forty-five minutes away by bus. Tiny and Amanda talked for a long time and not just about the needs of Walden. They both liked to jump rope and sing songs and make bird calls. Papi Cesar spent time chatting with Tiny’s mom, and soon, the two families were friends.

Amanda decided that her project would be to ask her church, her class at school, her family and her friends to come down to Walden and ask the people what they needed. They helped the community get the tools and seeds for the garden and shared in a big harvest meal in the fall. It would take a long time, but eventually they would help get a grocery store in Walden. They had a big festival to celebrate their success together.

Amanda learned a big lesson that day. She learned that you cannot decide what people need help with. You have to ask them what they need you to do and then do that. She also learned that sometimes, if you ask a stranger what they need, you might just make a friend.

 

MEDITATION

By Bill Withers, framing by Emily DeTar Birt

 

In the words on Bill Withers

“Please swallow your pride
If I have faith you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you won't let show

Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on”

 

All of us have needs we can only fill when we lean on each other and ask.

May the love of community remind us of the holy work of asking for help.

For in the asking, we find friends, carry loads, and lean on each other.

May it be so. Amen.
 

CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN

Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives.  As you do, you may briefly share what it is.  We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.

 

SERMON

The Gift is in The Asking by Joseph Cleveland, Minister, UU Congregation of Saratoga Springs, New York

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been visiting with someone, sitting down with them at their home or at their bedside, and after a while they say to me: I didn’t want to admit that I needed help. Usually the person will cast their eyes down for a time and it can be a little while before they make eye contact with me again. Their hands might fiddle with a blanket or with a cup of tea.

Usually, they say, I’m the one who gives rides to people or cooks them a meal. I’m the one who helps with the kids or visits people when they’re in the hospital. I’m not used to being on the receiving end. I’m not used to having to ask for help.

It can be difficult to receive. Years ago I lost the apartment I was living in—and a lot of my stuff—to a fire. It was a traumatic experience. And one of the things that was most difficult to deal with was the generosity of people. The Red Cross gave me money for clothes. Friends gave me dishes and silverware and bath towels. Friends also held a benefit concert to raise money for me so I could replace some of what I lost—a computer, a microwave. Friends filled the stage and the seats.

At the end of the night, after the concert, a friend put in my hand an envelope with cash and some checks. I went off and sat on a corner of the now-empty stage and opened it, and I couldn’t hold back tears. It is difficult to receive.

But even more difficult than receiving, I think, is the actual asking. “I am not feeling blessed right now, so I’m going to ask for a blessing.” I don’t know many people who can really do that at all easily.

We resist asking. Lots of our resistance comes from shame. The musician and professional “asker” Amanda Palmer notes in her book The Art of Asking that:

Women tend to feel shame around the idea of being “never enough”: at home, at work, in bed. Never pretty enough, never smart enough, never thin enough, never good enough. Men tend to feel shame around the fear of being perceived as weak….

Both sexes get trapped in the same box, for different reasons.

If I ask for help, I am not enough. If I ask for help, I am weak.

It’s no wonder so many of us just don’t bother to ask. It’s too painful.

But none of us gets through this life alone. A colleague of mine, Emily Hartlief, posted on Facebook that this is what being a new mother is teaching her. She says:

I left home when I was seventeen years old… I studied, I worked, I traveled, I moved ahead professionally. My mom and dad offered me emotional and financial support at every turn. Sometimes I accepted, and sometimes I did not.

I wanted to do it all on my own terms. I married. And then we had a child. Since then, I have had to ask for and accept more help than I ever imagined.

Emily asked for and has received all kinds of help from all kinds of family and friends. Help with cleaning and with food, help with baby clothes, and help with remembering to take care of herself, too. Emily says, “Mothering is not a solo act.”

You might have a story similar to this. And we all know the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” There are plenty of stories about being really reluctant to ask for help but then finally, somehow managing to ask—and the help comes.

But the place in all this that interests me the most is that moment of asking. It’s easy for me to understand how I’m receiving a gift when my friends have given me a place to stay, or when my dad gave me his overcoat. I’m wondering today if there might be a gift in the asking itself.

I’m intrigued by how Amanda Palmer describes what it means to ask. She says, “Asking is, at its core, a collaboration.” Then she describes a kind of thought-experiment: Imagine there is a surgeon working away and then something happens, “an unexpected bump in the process,” and the surgeon needs to ask the person next to her for something important, and she needs to do this quickly. Palmer notes that the surgeon doesn’t have any time for questions like:

Do I deserve to ask for this help?

Is this person I’m asking really trustworthy?

Am I [pretentious and insulting] for having the power to ask in this moment?

She simply accepts her position, Palmer writes, asks without shame, gets the right scalpel, and keeps cutting. Something larger is at stake. This holds true for firefighters, airline pilots and lifeguards, but it also holds true for artists, scientists, teachers—for anyone, in any relationship.

Those who can ask without shame are viewing themselves in collaboration with—rather than in competition with—the world. Palmer describes three different kinds of asking:

Asking for help with shame says: You have the power over me.

Asking with condescension says: I have power over you.

But asking for help with gratitude says: We have the power to help each other.

Asking with gratitude is a way of building mutual relationship. Asking with honesty is an opportunity to see what we can create together. The gift is in the asking.

I ran across a story on medium.com that seemed to be another example of how the gift is in the asking. Morgan Roe, a survivor of sexual assault, is now mother of a daughter who is almost five years old. Roe says, “Once my daughter became old enough to understand and respond to questions, I began asking for permission to touch her. May I touch your face? May I touch your arm?” She asks her daughter’s permission when she is bathing her or playing a game of This Little Piggy. Sometimes the answer her daughter gives is a “No,” and she respects that.

Now her daughter asks her: Mama, why do you ask all the time? She says, “I ask because your body is yours, and yours alone. You get to choose who is able to see it and touch it. If you don’t want someone to touch your body, all you will have to do is say no. They have to listen… (E)ven if you give me permission once and then later change your mind, I have to listen.” The daughter says: “Because my body is MINE?” “Exactly.”

The gift is in the asking.

This idea that the gift is in the asking got me thinking about Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal and what he says that matches what I’ve learned from others about the importance of having discussions about end-of-life preferences. As Gawande says, “People who had substantive discussions with their doctor about their end-of-life preferences were far more likely to die at peace and in control of their situation and to spare their family anguish.” As hard as it is to ask, the gift is in the asking.

Gawande tells a story about a palliative care specialist named Susan Block. Even for her, when it came to her own father, it was hard to ask the questions she needed to ask. Her father faced neurosurgery. The night before the operation, she and her father “chatted about friends and family, trying to keep their minds off what was to come, and then she left for the night.” On her way home, she says, “I realized, ‘Oh, my God, I don’t know what he really wants.’” And so she turned around and went back.

Block has a list of questions that she asks her patients and she had to turn around and go back to ask them of her dad:

•    What do you understand the prognosis, the likely course, of this disease, to be?

•    What are your worries or concerns about what lies ahead?

•    What trade-offs are you willing to make?

•    How do you want to spend your time if your health gets worse?

•    Who do you want to make decisions if you can’t?

Block says she told her father:

“I need to understand how much you’re willing to go through to have a shot at being alive and what level of being alive is tolerable to you.” We had this quite agonizing conversation where he said… “Well, if I’m able to eat chocolate ice cream and watch football on TV, then I’m willing to stay alive. I’m willing to go through a lot of pain if I have a shot at that.”

And it was a good thing she’d had that conversation, because there were complications with the surgery, in the middle of which doctors came out to ask her what to do. “She asked the surgeons whether, if her father survived, he would still be able to eat chocolate ice cream and watch football on TV. ‘Yes,’ they said. She gave the okay to take him back to the operating room.”

Susan Block’s father lived for two more years after that—quite productive years, actually. Years that he might not have had if she hadn’t known clearly what would qualify as livable for him.

The gift is in the asking. Author Gawande refers to a study made in 2010 at Massachusetts General Hospital:

…Those who saw a palliative care specialist stopped chemotherapy sooner, entered hospice far earlier, experienced less suffering at the end of their lives—and they lived 25 percent longer… If end-of-life discussions were an experimental drug, the FDA would approve it.

If we are brave enough to be vulnerable, the gift is in the asking. If we can ask from a place of gratitude, the gift is in the asking. If we have the courage to live a question without controlling the answer, the gift is in the asking. If we can ask our loved ones hard questions about what they fear and what they really want, the gift is in the asking.

 

HYMN #325 Love Makes a Bridge

 

BENEDICTION

By William E Gardner

We all have two religions: the religion we talk about and the religion we live.
It is our task to make the difference between the two as small as possible.